Sunday, 14 May 2017

Homewood parkrun (Ottershaw Memorial Fields)

I first visited Homewood parkrun when the event was based at its original venue, Homewood Park, in Chertsey. However, after only a few weeks at its original location, it was announced that the event would be permanently moving a mile down the road to a different park.

The blog for the original venue is here - blog7t: Homewood parkrun. By moving location, this venue became an oddity in my parkrunning record and as such became my 'Schrödinger's parkrun' - A parkrun that I had simultaneously visited AND not visited. It was time to open the box.

Despite moving to a new venue, the event has retained the name of its original park. I don't know if this has caused any confusion, but an update of the name would seem to fit in better with parkrun's event naming guidelines. Anyway, after finding a space in my parkrunning calendar, I headed over to check out the new venue, in Ottershaw.

ottershaw memorial fields

Ottershaw is a village in Runnymede district of Surrey. Although separate from its larger neighbour Chertsey, it still falls within the same postcode area. The village sits on what was originally heathland and over the years has been home to a number of small farms.

In the mid-19th century, the village began to be known by its current name which it took from the local country estate 'Ottershaw Park'. The owner of the estate at the time also gave the village one of its most notable landmarks, the Grade II listed, polychromatic style, 'Christ Church'.


The venue for this parkrun sits just to the north of the grounds of Ottershaw Park on the land formerly known as Potters Park or Potters Park Farm (at least, that's what I can make out from some old maps). A significant portion of the area is woodland but some of the land was formerly used as nurseries which supplied vegetables and flowers to the markets of London.

At some point between 1960 and 1973, the nurseries were developed into Ottershaw Memorial Fields and these are in memory of the people of Ottershaw who gave their lives during the second world war. If you look closely you'll find a couple of memorial plaques and a memorial garden. Also, the Ottershaw and Hamm Moor Cricket Club Pavilion is home to a memorial clock.

start and lap of field

The park consists of the main playing field which is primarily marked out for cricket but is sometimes changed to a football field, a tennis court, basketball court, bowls green, and children's playground. However, there is slightly more than meets the eye because the park extends into to adjacent woodland which includes Ether Hill.

We travelled over to the venue by car and had the option of parking in either of the park's two, free car parks. For anyone travelling by public transport, it's not quite so straight forward - the closest train stations are Chertsey and Addlestone which are both around 2 miles away from the venue. There are a couple of bus routes which stop within ten minutes of the venue, so they may be an option for some.

in the woods

Once in the park, there are toilets located adjacent to the car park next to the cricket pavilion. As the park consists mostly of a large open grass area, it is pretty easy to spot where the parkrun crowd are forming. The meeting point is on the grass in-between the two car parks and once the first timer's briefing has taken place (one of the best I've ever heard - delivered by Steve), the whole field gather for the main briefing. The run itself starts just next to the Fox Hills Road car park which is, unsurprisingly, adjacent to Fox Hills Road.

The course is made up of a partial clockwise lap of the playing fields, where the runners pass the bowls green and cricket pavilion on the eastern side of the park before the being sent off on an anti-clockwise three-lap roller coaster ride adjacent-to and through the woodland which covers and surrounds Ether Hill. Underfoot is a combination of grass and dirt (mud during the wetter seasons).

in the woods

It's not the ideal course for buggy running and I certainly wouldn't encourage less-confident or ill-prepared buggy runners to do so here. However, if you have a proper running buggy, are confident, and the occupant likes a bumpy ride then you'll get around the course - it won't be pretty, but it should be fun!

The first section of each lap is run on the grass adjacent to the woodland which has a very gentle incline leading into the woods themselves. Once inside the woods the ground underfoot changes to dirt paths which were pretty uneven, but manageable when I visited. There were plenty of arrows and marshals posted in the woods and the route was easy to follow.

in the woods

In the woods, the course undulates most of the way around. There is a notable incline early on each lap with one section being particularly steep which has been lovingly named 'Achilles Hill' - I imagine a fair percentage of the participants would be briefly reduced to a walk here. However it is fairly short and over quite quickly.

The woods are beautiful and the official course description says that there are wonderful views over the adjacent golf course, but I didn't get to see that because I was mostly looking down and trying to avoid the sheer number of tree roots lurking on the paths, just waiting for an innocent foot to grab hold of. I imagine that the risk of people tripping or twisting ankles here is fairly high, so if you are prone to face-planting, this might not be the best venue for you.

in the woods

I ran here in the early summer and everything was very dry and in these conditions road shoes would be ok. However, I wore my trail shoes and I was happy that this was the correct choice for me as the extra grip they gave through the woods was very welcome. If running here during the winter, I imagine it will take on the feel of a proper cross-country course bringing with it plenty of mud - trail shoes would be a must, but some people may even opt for cross-country spikes.

The second half of the lap features more tree roots than the first half, but has more of a downhill theme going on. At the end of each lap, the runners exit the woods and start the lap again. As the laps progress most people will either lap someone or be lapped themselves. With all the tree roots and some narrow paths it is important to listen to the marshals and keep an eye out for each other. With those points in mind, I would avoid wearing headphones here.

end of lap / exit woods

Once the three laps are complete, the runners emerge from the woods and head back around the playing field, past the pavilion and bowling green, before finally reaching the finish line which is adjacent to Fox Hills Road, but not quite back where it all started. Barcode scanning is taken care of right next to the finish line.

Anyone in desperate need of a post-run beverage can make use of the 'Eastwick Coffee Company' portable coffee van that will probably be parked up in the car park next to the bowling green. Those with a little more time or a need for a more substantial breakfast may choose to carry on to the Old School Cafe with the rest of the team.

back on the fields

With the run all done and dusted, I uploaded my GPS file of the course to Strava and you can view it here: Homewood parkrun 31 (Ottershaw Memorial Fields). The results for event #31 were processed a short while later and 115 people had taken part. I really enjoyed my run through the woods and I'd be interested to give it a go during the winter. A big thanks to all of the volunteers that made it possible and to my wife for making sure I had some extra photos for the blog.

Link: blog7t - The Surrey parkrun Venues

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Darent Valley 10k 2017

Every year since moving to Dartford, on a certain weekend during the spring, I get up nice and early, jump on the bike and cycle over to the Anthony Roper School in Eynsford for the Darent Valley 10k race. 2017 was the fourth year of doing this, but it very nearly didn't happen.

You see, I had been having some trouble with my ankle and held back on entering the race. However, on the morning of the 2017 race, I woke up and decided to cycle over to the race to support my friends that were running - at this point I definitely was not going to run.

[photo: 7t]

I arrived, headed into the school hall and found the rest of my Dartford Harriers running club members. I mentioned the troublesome ankle, chatted for a bit, and before I knew it I was queueing at the late entries desk with £15 in my hand to pay the on-the-day affiliated entry fee.

What I didn't mention was that before leaving home, I had packed my running kit in my backpack, so I had everything I needed to take part. This years race had a higher turnout than the previous years I had run and this was mostly down to the event moving to an early May date rather than mid-April which inevitably didn't fit into any London Marathon runners' diaries.

With my training being almost non-existent in the six weeks leading up to the event, I didn't have high hopes for my performance. My main goal was to get around the course without aggravating the ankle, however I had hopes that this year wouldn't be a new personal worst.

[photo: angela fathers]

I started the race from well back in the pack and took the first kilometre nice and easy. After that, I felt like increasing the pace so I started to push a little harder, but not quite at what I'd call race pace. Over the next few kilometres I filtered through the field and generally felt pretty good.

I had a slight pain in the left knee which was related to an unfortunate incident where I bashed it on my mum's kitchen table a few days earlier, however I pushed through it and it was generally fine. I took it easy through the off road section that passes along part of the Lullingstone parkrun course and it was soon time for the hardest part of the race, which is the long incline which leads up to the A225 road.

Once the incline ends, the final, slightly downhill 2.5km closing section begins. It's a little hairy as this section is run an a main road with not really any pavement available to run on. Still the last two kilometres are great fun and very fast. Before I knew it, I had arrived back at the Anthony Roper School and headed into the finish funnel.

[photo: 7t]

The medals at this race have quite a nostalgic feel to them and they always feature a scene from the local area. This year's medal featured a windmill and it looks great with my medals from 2014, 2015, and 2016. As for my overall performance, despite the lack of training and various niggles, I ran the race faster than I did the previous year, so that was pretty good!

Race stats:

Finishing time (chip): 43.58
Finishing position (by gun): 118 / 653

Full results: Darent Valley 10k 2017

GPS data: Strava - Darent Valley 10k 2017

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Hove Promenade parkrun

Hove is a town in the ceremonial county of East Sussex. As of 1997, it was merged with Brighton for local government purposes and in 2000 the borough of Brighton and Hove was granted city status by the Queen. With around 275,000 residents, it is the most populous seaside resort in England.

We (me, the ladies and Richey) headed down to Hove on the first weekend of May 2017 to finally visit Hove Promenade parkrun, which has been active since July 2015. Although I like going to Brighton and Hove for its sheer number of vegetarian/vegan restaurants and shops, the town is very busy and parking either difficult, expensive or both.

hove, actually

When we arrived, we parked in one of the pay and display spaces on Kingsway which is the seafront road that runs adjacent to Hove Promenade. It's worth noting that these spaces fall within the Brighton and Hove 'inner' parking zone and are pretty expensive. We had planned to have lunch in Brighton after the run and the parking cost £10.40 for the full day (thanks, richey).

If you were just staying for the run, you'd probably be alright with 1 hour at £2 or 2 hours at £4.20 - another option would be to park further to the west in the 'outer' zone where the fees are halved. The nearest free spaces I am aware of are over 2 kilometres away on the side streets adjacent the original Brighton and Hove parkrun.

start area

Had we travelled down by train, we would have headed for Hove station which is the closest of the options (1 mile away). Alternatively there is Brighton station (1.5 miles away). If you are fairly local, there are a large number of bus option that will get you within a five minute walk of the start. Cyclists can of course use the city's extensive network of cycle lanes to reach the venue. Toilets are available and they are located on the promenade about 100 metres west of the start-finish area.

The run itself starts on the promenade right next to The Lawns Cafe and this is also used as the post-run tea/coffee social venue - it only has outdoor seating so I imagine the numbers of people at the post-run gathering are largely dictated by the weather conditions.

the western section and turnaround

This parkrun features an out-and back style course, but the start-finish is right in the middle of the course rather than being at one end. Some people may refer to the course as 2 laps and that does make some sense. It is a flat course and the promenade is very wide. The runners are asked to keep to the southern half of the prom (the half closest to the sea) and the turnaround points are run anti-clockwise (left hand turns).

From the start, the participants simply head west past the colourful beach huts and after a 180 turn at the turnaround point, they head back to the east. In the distance it's now possible to see the ruined remains of the West Pier which was originally opened in 1866. It was the first pier to be given grade I status, but due to repeated fire and storm damage it has now been declared as 'beyond repair' by English Heritage.

heading eastwards

Participants will also spot the 162-metre-tall i360 observation tower - it is the world's first vertical cable car and the world's 'tallest moving observation tower'. As the name suggests, passengers (up to 200 at a time) on board have a 360 degree view of the surrounding areas including the Isle of Wight, Beachy Head and the south downs.

Where was I? Oh yeah. The runners continue past the start area and continue until reaching the eastern turnaround point, which is just a few metres away from the Angel of Peace statue which marks the Hove/Brighton boundary line. Both of the turnaround points are marked with cones and are accompanied by wonderful marshals.

the eastern end turnaround point

The halfway point is found back at the start-finish area, and all that is left to to is repeat the double out-and-back or, if you prefer, the second lap. It's then time to dive into the finish funnel, collect a token and have it scanned along with your personal barcode.

While out on the course, it's worth checking out Hove Lawns (aka Brunswick Lawns) which separate the Prom from the main road - they sit on an area of land which is protected by an Act passed in 1830 which states that no building may be erected south of Brunswick Terrace (which is just just across the road). The lawns have seen many interesting events such as the landing of a biplane in 1911 - you can find lots more information on the very interesting 'Hove in the Past' blog.

the second lap

With this being a seafront course, it does suffer from the effects of the wind. When we ran here, we had a head wind blowing from the east, which was hard-going running into, but we did take advantage of the tail wind when heading the opposite way!

One of the natural processes that takes place along the sealine is longshore drift, which means that pebbles and shingle can end up covering the promenade as they are moved around by the wind and sea. In extreme cases this could lead to the event being cancelled, so keep an eye on the event's news and social media pages if you are planning a visit.

heading towards the finish

The surface is fairly smooth tarmac (suitable for buggies and wheelchairs) and is nice and wide. Cycling is not allowed on the promenade as there are bespoke bike lanes adjacent to the main road, so there shouldn't be any issues with passing cyclists. However, I did see plenty of cyclists ignoring this while I was there, so keep an eye out just in case.

We visited the venue on 6 May 2017 at event #92. There were 286 participants and the results were processed a short while later. I recorded the course GPS data and you can view it in detail, right here - Strava: Hove Promenade parkrun.

A big thanks to the day's official photographer and to Dani for the running photos.

post-run fun

We had made our own post-run lunch plans so we headed off into Brighton to a vegan cafe called The Loving Hut which is located in a park called The Level. It was quite a walk from the parkrun venue, but so very worth it. I tried vegan fish and chips for the first time and was blown away by how amazing it was! We'd had another great day out in Brighton and Hove, and I have now run at all four of the city's parkrun venues.

My blogs from the full set of Brighton and Hove parkrun venues:

Brighton and Hove parkrun
Preston Park parkrun
Bevendean Down parkrun
Hove Promenade parkrun

Also, the full list of Sussex parkrun venues can be found here:

The Sussex parkrun venues

Monday, 1 May 2017

Chichester parkrun

Chichester is the county town of West Sussex and also has city status. The city centre stands on the foundations of the original Roman town of Noviomagus Reginorum which was an important residential, industrial and cultural centre. The town had public baths, an amphitheatre and a basilica. The Roman town had been abandoned by the year 380, probably due to Saxon raids along the south coast.

It is thought that the name Chichester comes from a man called 'Cissa' who was part of the Saxon invasion of Sussex in the late 5th century coupled with the word 'ceaster' - the Saxon name for a foreign city, town or fort. However, evidence to support this seems to be a little thin on the ground, so it might not be correct.

noviomagus reginorum (chichester)

Of course, there are loads more interesting historic things for me to waffle on about, but I think it's best to skip forward to the reason of our visit, which was of course Chichester parkrun. The 5km run, based in Oaklands Park, had its inaugural event in August 2014 and had grown into a 200+ participant event by the time we visited in April 2017.

As we had driven to Chichester, we headed, as advised on the official course page, to Northgate car park which sits at the southern end of the park. At the time of our visit the parking fees were 70p for an hour or £1.50 for two hours - these would be sufficient for most parkrunners, but as we were planning to explore the city after the run, we paid £4.70 for 6 hours.

the meeting point in oaklands park

If we had travelled by train, we would have headed to Chichester Station which is just to the south of the town centre and walked the rest of the way. Toilets are located next to the car park entrance which is a few hundred metres from the start of the run.

From the car park, all you need to do is head towards the Minerva Theatre (check out the Minerva statue) and Chichester Festival Theatre. Oaklands park (and the parkrun start-finish) is located just beyond these buildings. The park is the largest public recreation space in Chichester and is essentially a collection of sports fields - you'll find 4 rugby pitches, 1 football pitch, 1 softball pitch and a cricket pitch. There are also a couple of children's play areas and apparently an orchard.

the start

If you are paying attention to the surroundings at the start-finish area, you will spot a rather theatrical, scantily clad statue here - this is Spartacus! At 9am on a Saturday morning, the parkrun starts on the grass outside the two theatres. Before the main briefing, I made sure to pay close attention to core volunteer Lynette's first-timer briefing.  The run takes place over three anti-clockwise laps which are mostly run on grass - As the conditions were dry, I wore my road shoes, but you may find trail shoes are handy when the conditions are less favourable.

The park isn't that big so each lap consists of quite a bit of weaving up and down the sides of the rugby pitches, plus a short section on a dusty path, on the way to the far end of the park. The journey north is ever-so-slightly uphill, but not really enough to be of too much trouble. As you go around you will notice that the parkrun has its own permanent wooden course markers (there are 15 of them).

early part of the lap

Once at the far end, the course heads back down towards the start-finish via the shared footpath/cycle lane which runs adjacent to the park. The advice is to keep to left on this path and keep an eye out for cyclists which could be coming from behind at a faster pace (especially as it is downhill). At the end of the path, the course turns back into the park right next to the start-finish area.

The long downhill tarmac section is perfect for a fast finish, and after three laps you can do just that. The finish line is found at the same place the run started just a short time earlier. When I visited, barcode scanning took place before the runners had left the finish funnel which you don't see that often (incidentally, the same procedure was in place when I ran at Bognor Regis parkrun, which is just down the road).

mid lap

With the run finished, it was time for some refreshments. The official post-run coffee arrangement is for a mobile coffee van to be present (and it was), but we had heard a rumour that a vegetarian cafe existed over in the town centre, so we headed over there instead.

Feeling refreshed, we spent the rest of the day exploring - we checked out Chichester Cathedral and saw some nesting peregrine falcons. We had a look around Priory Park which is very nice (but way too small for parkrun!).

end of lap

We also checked out Chichester's museum 'The Novium' where we saw the remains of the Roman Bath House and lots of other Roman artefacts. The British astronaut Tim Peake is from Chichester and we spent some time looking at the Tim Peake - An Extraordinary Journey exhibition on one of the upper floors of the museum - all free of charge.

The results for event 145 were processed and I received my results SMS and email while we were wandering around. 275 people had taken part which was a new attendance record, so it was nice to have been part of that. I also recorded the course GPS data and you can view that, here: Strava - Chichester parkrun

final corner and finish area

With our car park ticket about to expire, we headed back to the car and left with great memories of our visit to Chichester.

Link: The Sussex parkrun venues

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Rickmansworth parkrun

The town of Rickmansworth takes its name from the Saxon landowner 'Ryckmer' and 'worth' meaning farm or stockade. Over the years the name has recorded under at least nine different variations of the word, and finally settled on the current spelling many centuries ago.

The town sits in the Three Rivers District of Hertfordshire. The rivers Gade, Chess and Colne were crucial in the establishment of most of the town's traditional trades. Watercress was a major trade as it grew in abundance on the banks of the rivers. The rivers provided the power required for corn milling, silk weaving, paper making and brewing. All of these trades have now disappeared from the area.

rickmansworth parkrun

In the early 1920s, gravel, which was used in the construction of the original Wembley Stadium, was extracted from a site to the south of the town centre. When the gravel extraction ceased, the remaining holes filled with water from natural springs, forming lakes. Ever since the 1930s, there has been a history of sailing on them.

The lakes (Bury and Batchworth) are now part of the Rickmansworth Aquadrome which is a 41 acre Local Nature Reserve. They provide home to many waterfowl including herons, moorhens and swans, and host a variety of watersports including sailing, windsurfing, canoeing and water skiing. The rest of the reserve features areas of woodland and grassland which can be explored via a network of footpaths. There is also a cafe, dog-free picnic area and playground.

start / frogmoor lane

On 4th March 2017 the aquadrome became home to Rickmansworth parkrun, or as I heard a few of the locals say 'Ricky parkrun'. We travelled over to visit the venue on their third event and we parked in the car park which is just off Frogmoor Lane - it has space for 400 cars and is currently free-of-charge. The toilets and the cafe (Cafe in the Park) are located next to the car park as is the meeting and start point of the parkrun.

If we had travelled by public transport we would have taken the train to Rickmansworth station which is located a short walk away, in the town centre. Cyclists can secure their bikes to one of the many bicycle racks which are located outside the cafe.

bury lake circular walk path

Underfoot is a mixture of tarmac and slightly bumpy, stony footpaths - the surface is firm all around the course, so road shoes are the way to go. As it stands, at time of writing, the start-finish area is slightly different to the map on the official course page - I always record the course data using some kind of GPS device, so you can view the data if you want to see the actual course as was run at event #3, here on Strava - Rickmansworth parkrun #3.

Just before 9am, the first-timers briefing, followed by the full briefing were held on the grass outside the cafe. The day's 267 participants then relocated to the start line a bit further along the tarmac path, which is still officially Frogmoor Lane. It's worth pointing out that this part of Frogmoor lane is used as a vehicular access road for members of the sailing club whose car park is at the far end and it seemed to be in pretty frequent use.

bury lake circular walk path

Once the day's runners had parted to allow a vehicle through, we were sent on our way for a very pleasant journey on a two-lap (plus the start-finish tail), meandering, clockwise course around the aquadrome. After about 150 metres the course takes a left hand turn and we were away from any potential vehicle interaction. At this point, the runners effectively run between the two lakes (you can only see one). There is a bird feeding area on the left and some of the waterfowl are quite often on the path - watch out for their little, slippery, poopy presents.

This section is the 'Bury Lake Circular Walk' and it guides the runners around to the northern side of Bury Lake where the surroundings eventually start to become more wooded. About 800 metres into the lap, the course turns away from the lake and heads north where it meets the River Colne. The runners now follow the meandering, path (still tarmac) through woodland with the river to their left.

batchworth lake circular walk path

When the runners reach the northern tip of Batchworth Lake, they are 1.5km into their run and join the Batchworth Lake Circular Path which weaves its way around the eastern bank of the lake. Around this point, the tarmac path changes to a slightly bumpier, stonier path for a few hundred metres. The River Colne is still to the runner's left along here, and eventually the runners reach a right hand turn (just a whisker over 2k into the run) where the Colne meets the Grand Union Canal - you might catch a glimpse of it through a small doorway in the corner.

Now running along the southern bank of Batchworth Lake, the lap is almost complete. A small section of woodland is negotiated which includes a tiny bridge (be careful of the hole in one of the planks) after which the route pops out on Frogmoor Lane for about 50 metres and the second lap begins when the runners rejoin the 'Bury Lake Circular Path'. Another note I will make is that the park is very popular with dog walkers and I had a few moments where unleashed dogs ran across my path.

batchworth lake circular walk path

Once both laps are complete, the runners head back along the start-finish straight (again, keep an eye out for vehicles along here - there is a section for pedestrians but it's not always possible to stay in it due to its design) where they will find the finish line manned by the rather wonderful volunteers. A scanned barcode and finish token later, the hard work of the morning was complete and it was time to head into the Cafe in the Park for some well-earned refreshments. We had an expensive, but lovely breakfast and the coffee was out of this world. They also had a cool selection of children's books that really kept us all occupied.

After breakfast we hung around for a bit longer and watched the boats sailing on Bury Lake, and the sounds of the water lapping onto the shore were nice and relaxing. The results for event #3 were processed and online shortly after the run and I was pleased to have re-completed the Hertfordshire set and the London set (within the M25 version) of parkruns on the same day.

frogmoor lane / finish

We left at about midday having had a really nice morning out and headed towards central London for a family birthday. While driving along the A40 we saw the four huge man-made hills that reside in Northala Fields Country Park and I told my wife and daughter the story of their origin which tied in very nicely with the venue we had just visited. If you don't know the link, have a read of my Northala Fields parkrun blog.

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